I attended a series of Catholic Young Adult talks last Summer where the organizers chose speakers that I wouldn’t exactly call pillars of orthodoxy. The last speaker in the series talked about “living your questions”, which on its face could be arbitrarily wise or foolish outside of any other context. That growing in faith is a lifelong pilgrimage is without question, but given the previous speakers, I couldn’t help but cynically interpret the urge to young people to live their questions was an encouragement to practice testing the waters of dissent – assuming the Church is wrong and try it out, and if harm should come, work it out in the confessional…or perhaps shrug and move on. Generally these days we see these in things like contracepting, co-habitation, doing something else in lieu of mass, etc and by the time their detriment to one’s spiritual life is found, it’s a little late to easily change course.
In last year’s reflection on today’s feast day, the multitudes in Acts 15 silenced themselves and accepted the decision of Peter, the first Pope, to be binding on the lives of the faithful. It was a priority of early Christians to live their lives set apart from the norm of secular society by their peculiar ethical standard. These days, the average Catholic seeks to blend in and not stand out or stand up for anything that is at all distinct. It seems as if a Catholic is more likely to co-habitate than a Jew or Muslim would venture to eat pork.
There are scientific rationales for not eating pork. There is also scientific rationale to be found in not co-habitating, including a fairly recent study run by the University of Virginia that found that true marriage made a difference over mere cohabitation. Living these questions is no guarantee to happiness when it involves ignoring the constant and obvious Church teaching ordered to the full happiness of every individual person.
Ironically, the hype around Pope Francis has typical-dissenters calling for immediate change to these moral precepts in response to many of his comments that are often related second to third hand or taken out of context entirely. Yet these are the same people who would dismiss an official document, part of the ordinary teaching of the Magisterium as “not infallible” and somehow therefore justified to be opposed.
How many studies will it take to quantitatively correlate right living with happiness? What’s the price if one were to accept what the Church had constantly taught? What’s the price for dissenting, if not one’s soul? How could a tradeoff be justified? Our fallen nature goes for it anyway sometimes, but let’s not confuse our weakness with demands of change.
As we journey in our years, we look at the Church not as a mere opinion among many, but as a light, illuminating the obstacles and chasms that lie in the road ahead. The upcoming Synod on the Family to be convened by Pope Francis represents a great opportunity to reframe this light and perhaps leverage some of the sociological and scientific research to bolster the constant teaching and elevate us from the blind experimentation of “living out your questions”. On this feast of the Chair of Peter, we pray for the Holy Father, the symbol of unity in our progress toward greater happiness, to lead us strongly in the years ahead.